I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell. – William Tecumseh Sherman
I took in my surroundings and looked at what the other Marines were wearing compared to Thumper and I. Everyone was dressed for battle, except us. At one point I looked to the back of the building and caught a glimpse of the Army PSY-OP (Psychological Operations) guys that lived below us, and they were dressed to impress; glasses, backwards ball cap, gloves, the works.
“They live right below me, how the fuck did they get dressed, that good, that stylish, so quick; whatever.” – I thought.
I had on a green skivvy shirt, my trousers and untied boots, that almost killed me as many times as enemy bullets did.
Barlow leaned over to me and yelled, “Hey Mack, now’s probably a good time to put on your body armor and Kevlar”.
“Yeah, good call man!” – I replied, a little embarrassed that I was so under dressed for the occasion.
I ducked back into our room and headed for my cot, a few feet away from where my gear was stowed. I tossed my Kevlar on my head and threw my plate carrier on. The first thing that went through my mind was, “Fuck, did I take my side-sapi plates out?”
For the plate carriers we were using, there was a front, back and two side plates. The plates were made of steel, ceramics and protected your body mass or sternum fore and aft. The side plates protected your flank from hip to arm pit. They were heavy and a nuisance to my 135 lb. ass, so sometimes inside the wire, I removed the side plates to increase maneuverability. To make my life a little easier. It’s an interesting trade off, ballistic protection versus maneuverability.
I threw my NVG’s, a bottle of water, a can of Grizzly, 40mm grenades and extra ammo into my dump pouch attached to my right hip; just in case this was going to be an all-nighter. I couldn’t remember the last time I drank water. My mouth was parched to say the least and I was having a hard time breathing or speaking clearly.
Barlow was yelling back and forth with Marines positioned at the back corner of our building but I couldn’t hear anything. It was drowned out by the steady stream of gunfire from the roof and gun truck, tearing into the jail compound wall and windows. The sound of all the different weapons systems formed a thunderous symphonic fury of close quarters battle.
Once suited up, I moved back up to the doorway, stacking up against our now broken piece-of-shit plywood door. Barlow was aimed in, searching for targets on the catwalk.
He yelled over to me, “XO says it’s time to get the fuck out of here”.
“Sounds good to me man” I said.
Barlow yelled back to the Marines at the back corner of our building.
“YO! MARINES COMING OUT, DON’T FUCKING SHOOT US!”
“Roger that, we got you covered, come on!” – someone yelled from the back.
Instead of a flat-out sprint to the back of the White House, we bounded – each man moving forward, in turns, while the others covered him. Barlow got his Marines together and started sending them downstairs, while we raked the jail with cover fire from the catwalk.
I took one last look at the jail before turning right and hauled ass downstairs. Again, I tripped on my fucking bootlaces, that I still hadn’t tied and almost fell, head over heels down the stairs.
“When will this end…”– I thought to myself.
The Marines in the back were in position to cover us as we made our mad dash down the narrow alleyway between the wall of hescos on our left, and the White House on our right. Once we hit the end of the hescos, we banged a sharp right and followed the wall south until we got to the far corner, where we took a pause to take in the situation.
As I rounded the back corner of the White House, I was greeted by the XO (Executive Officer), still in his PT clothes, wielding a 9mm, blasting off rounds like Wyatt Earp at the OK Corral. Alright, now I’ve seen it all. Afghan soldiers and police were stacked along the wall, the look on their face as they looked us over expressed a sense of ‘Oh Shit’. We must have looked torn up.
I lost Barlow and his boys in the chaos behind the White House. There was just too many people, too many chiefs, too many languages going off at the same time. We clattered down the alley between the Governors compound and the White House, hooked a sharp right at the corner and squeezed past the MATV gun truck positioned in the middle of the street. As we ran, we kept close to the walls and did our best not to draw attention to ourselves. There was a lot of different ‘uniforms’ running around and I wasn’t exactly sure who was good and who was bad after my previous experience upstairs.
I could hear the rotors of an inbound helicopter in the near distance. As we made our way around the back of the White House, I could see a Medevac chopper approaching the District Center from the south. The UH-60 Blawkhawk landed on the LZ (Landing Zone) adjacent to the White House, covering the scene with moon dust and rocks; so much so that we had to stop moving. I couldn’t see my own hand in front of my face.
Once the dust settled enough, we made our way around the south side of the White House which brought us back to the “main street” separating the Afghan Police compound from the White House. We hauled ass across the street, falling in behind the Marines already stacked against the east side of the Afghan Police compound. There was a huge exchange of gunfire inside the jail enclave. I didn’t know at that time, but the Afghan Army and Police were in the process of assaulting into the south side of the jail through the breach in the wall made by the gun truck.
It was probably somewhere just before six p.m. when we stacked up at the east end of the Afghan Police compound, just yards from the jail entrance, prepared to assault through. The firefight was now two hours old, and three of our men were dead with another half dozen wounded. Now we were getting angry.
We held our position for what seemed like forever. Finally, we started moving towards the jail entrance where this whole cluster fuck began. It dawned on me at this point that I had traveled in circle. Makes sense. I kept my rifle pointed at the bunker that I had lit up earlier in the day.
“MOVING!” – the point man yelled.
We made our move through the jail’s main entrance, facing the White House. We were moving quick, so I had just a split second to absorb the chaos brewing inside the jail enclosure. As I hooked left through the entrance and straight through to the jail cells I heard enraged shouting.
I almost tripped over a body sprawled a couple feet inside the jail entrance. His eyes were wide open, like he was searching for something in the waning Afghan sky. I wondered what his last thoughts were before he met his end. I peered through the haze and spotted an Afghan Security guard, one of many who had abandoned his position in the jail, and was now being lined up against the hesco.
Danny, our DEA attaché’, broke my trance by the sound of his powerful, angry voice. He was yelling at the Afghan security guys that were lined up against the hesco barrier. One of them was a Afghan cop that had been hiding in the bunker the entire firefight. This was the same guy I was trying to kill from my firing position on the second floor of the White House. Jesus, can this get any more fucking crazy?
“We need guys on the roof, secure it!” – barked Staff Sgt Green.
The jail enclosure was filled to capacity with Marines and the like, so we moved to the stairs leading to the roof of the Afghan Police compound. It was getting close to dark so I mounted my NVGs on my Kevlar and scanned the north side of the city as we cautiously made our way up the stairs to the roof.
The roof was clear so we took an overwatch position while the Marines on ground level cleared the rest of the rooms in the compound. From the roof I had an unobstructed view of the entire south side of the camp and the north side of the city. It was a odd time to take in all the different colors in the sky combining to make an incredible view. I was super lucky to be alive, I wondered how so much beauty, hate, and violence could coexist in one place. I think a switch was thrown inside me, and I’ve never looked at things the same way again. Could be a good thing or bad, maybe both. I guess time will tell.
The Afghan police that were lined against the hesco were zip-tied and taken away for interrogation by some of our CI (Counter-Intel) guys. We spent a short time on the roof and were replaced by fresh Marines. Thumper and I made our way downstairs and headed back towards the White House across the street. We were now able to take in the scene around us. There was spent ammunition everywhere, bloody pressure dressings strewn across the street. The Afghan Police compound was fucked. I was in awe of the damage.
“Hey dude I gotta go down to the COC (Command Operations Center) and send in my SITREP (Situation Report) to Gunny, I’m already late, he’s probably going to fuck me up, you gonna be good?” – I asked Thumper.
“Yeah, I’m going to see the damage back at the “house”; by the way, tie your boots man” – he replied.
Fuck me. – I thought.
The sky had grown dark by the time I made my way down to the COC. It was an eerie, long and lonely walk. I felt like someone could easily jump over the hesco wall and take me out. I was real paranoid where I thought there was a bad guy feet from me and I just couldn’t see him. I had my rifle at the ready as I cautiously made made my way down the hill. To say I was scared is an understatement.
I finally made it down the hill and over to the COC without incident. I was running on fumes. The inside of the COC was chaos, not surprising. Section heads were scrambling to get accountability of their Marines… who was alive, who was dead, wounded, where everyone was at. I tried to keep a low profile as I made a beeline past the Watch Officer, to the S-2 office where my computer was located. I must have looked like shit, judging from the looks I was receiving.
Hoping no one would comment on my attire, I ducked into the S-2 office and encountered a full house. All the Intel guys were stuffed inside the small room, trying to piece together the events of the afternoon so they could brief the Skipper. As soon as I walked through the door all eyes shot to me. Captain McSween’s eyes widened as he looked me up and down.
“Corporal Vogel, you’re alive. You look like shit, are your boys up?” – Captain McSween.
“Yes Sir, we’re up, any word on Dease, he was in bad shape when I saw him last….” – I trailed on.
Captain McSween stopped me and said, “He’s gone bro, he passed away on the way to Bastion. Wilson and Vittori didn’t make it…”
The rest of his words didn’t register, I was flustered, felt sick… wanted to throw up but didn’t have anything in my stomach. I looked down at my boots and there was blood. Not sure whose it was. I leaned back up against the wall and slid down to where I was squatting, where I stayed for some time. In some ways, I feel like part of me never got off that floor.
Everything hit me at once, the last look I saw on Dease’s face, Vittori, Wilson, FUCK, the bunker, the cop in the bunker, this entire deployment, did I do enough, the fucking RPG… What the fuck happened dude. I took a breath, pulled myself together and stowed my emotions, buried them deep inside with all the other ones. No time to process anything, back to work. 15 more days.